When the phrase “food fight” leaves the lips of the hero of a children’s movie, it always comes with a few exclamation points and waste — lots of lobbed mashed potatoes, smashed tomatoes and flying slices of pizza.
Chris Taylor’s “Food Fight” is also about waste, even if there isn’t any airborne mac and cheese involved.
The waste in this documentary, which is slated for a special screening at 7 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Hall, is processed food and the system behind it.
In filmmaker Taylor’s point of view, every calorie spent to make industrial food — think frozen meals, squeezable yogurt and the much-maligned Twinkie — amounts to waste on a massive scale.
“The great mass of American citizens don’t think twice about how they shop or what they get out of the supermarket or where it comes from, what it’s made of and whether or not it’s healthy,” says Taylor, who will attend the film’s screening. “The goal of the film is to get to those people and show them what’s going on and why it’s going on and what they can do to improve it.”
The story behind the fight
The film is a documentary exploring the first group of people to fight the conventional food system that treats foods as commodities rather than ingredients. On the forefront of that movement was Alice Waters, the famed force behind Chez Panisse, which she opened in Berkeley, Calif., in 1971.
To get the freshest, top-quality ingredients, Waters carved a path completely outside the lines drawn by the industrial food system. She built a supply chain composed of local producers, a menu based on seasonality and catered to the local counter-culture crowd. Soon, her ideas mingled with that counter-culture movement, and the seeds of today’s modern locovore movement were sown.
The film documents how Waters went behind the back of the commercial food system as well as how far we’ve come since and how we got there in the first place.
It’s a tale told by famed politico-foodie stars such as “In Defense of Food” author Michael Pollan, dietitian and author of “Food Politics” Marion Nestle and Grist magazine’s Tom Philpott, as well as by Waters herself.
The picture isn’t pretty: A food system born out of policies focusing on profit rather than nutrition and transportability rather than taste. The result, according to Taylor, is a population that gets fatter the further away it gets from a pre-industrialized agricultural system.
Taylor chose to be cheeky in getting the message across, using old footage and campiness rather than stern words to tell the story. It’s an approach he used specifically because he hopes that “Food Fight” strikes a chord with people who may have been dragged to one of the film’s 50-plus showings by a friend or family member.
“Some people don’t get it. The challenge for me is to get beyond the choir,” Taylor says. “Because what we need is a ground swell, we don’t need just the activists, the slow food people, the school lunch people, we need them all working together, but we also need a number that is 10 times what we currently have to get the political willpower to make changes.”
Fighting in Lawrence
The film hit home with Alan Rhodes so much so that when he first saw it at a conference in New Mexico, he vowed to bring it to Lawrence. Though he lives in Spring Hill, he felt Lawrence would appreciate the movie’s message of working together as a municipality.
“This documentary takes us into the community-building aspects of our food system,” Rhodes says. “It brings our awareness of community and our food choices to the personal level.”
The result of Rhodes’ efforts is a screening that features a panel scheduled to include the director, co-producer Thetis Sammons and local food experts such as Kansas Rural Center director Dan Nagengast and Local Burger owner Hilary Brown.
Brown is pleased to take part specifically because the movie’s central theme is what spawned Local Burger, 714 Vt., to begin with. She believes our industrialized food system’s reach is far beyond the grocery store, and not in a good way.
“We’ve been, for the last 20 to 30 years or longer, really spoiled. We haven’t had to think about where our food comes from or its effects,” Brown says. “Now, today we’ve got to look at it, because we can’t continue on the same path. It’s affecting our economy, our culture, our health, the health of the environment. And so now is the time to learn about it.”
Taylor also connects the wellness aspect to his movie’s message. He says that whatever your views on today’s health care debate, industrial food is affecting your premiums and your wellness, not just your taste buds and wallet.
“I think the big lever that is going to work in the favor of the consumer is the idea that health care is really, really going to be based on preventative lifestyle and that’s diet,” Taylor says. “Inevitably, as most social revolutions have their economic component, that economic component will come from health care in favor of the consumer.”
It’s a fight that Taylor expects to mirror the battle against big tobacco, only this time the enemy is big agriculture. For those who fail to see the connection, Taylor says even if you don’t see his film or any of the other similar projects in the pipeline, there will be plenty of time to chose sides. He points out that while this food revolution may be young on the national scale, it could go the way of big tobacco — from throwing stones to turning the tide.
“We started fighting tobacco with the surgeon general’s warning, which the big tobacco companies fought tooth and nail for 30 years, denying there was any culpability, or any real science backing up the idea that cigarettes make us sick or cause cancer,” Taylor says. “And that’s going to play out again with big agribusiness companies. And you’re seeing the exact same arrogance you saw with the tobacco companies. And who ever knew we were going to win that debate? But we did, and we’re going to win the same debate with food companies.
“It’s in our interest as a population.”